Hot Flames look to keep Rangers cold
NEW YORK -- A pivotal set of games could not have started any better for the Calgary Flames -- or any worse for the New York Rangers.
The Flames will look to continue their roll and the Rangers will hope to snap their slump Friday night, when New York hosts Calgary at Madison Square Garden in their first meeting of the season.
The Flames earned their third straight win Thursday night, when they continued a six-game road trip with a 3-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils. The Rangers suffered their fourth consecutive loss Wednesday night -- and their seventh defeat in the last eight games -- when they were routed by the visiting Boston Bruins 6-1.
The Flames (28-18-8), who immediately preceded their winning streak with a six-game slide (0-2-4), have moved into a tie for second with the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division, one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings and two points ahead of the Anaheim Ducks. Almost as importantly, Calgary will enter Friday with as many points as the Minnesota Wild, who currently occupy the second wild card in the Western Conference.
Each of the Flames' last three wins have been by one goal.
"You can have good numbers and you can lose 1-0," said Flames backup goalie David Rittich, who earned the win Thursday by recording 30 saves. "If you get two points, numbers (don't) matter. Two points is most important for me."
The numbers have not been good lately for the Rangers (25-24-5), who enter Friday in sole possession of last place in the Metropolitan Division, New York has been outscored 17-4 during its losing streak and 35-16 over the last eight games.
While the Rangers are just three points out of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, most projection models give them no better than a 20 percent chance of reaching the postseason.
New York has made the playoffs the last seven seasons and in 11 of the last 12 campaigns, but upper management seemed ready to wave the white flag Thursday, when general manager Jeff Gorton and president Glen Sather said they were focusing on rebuilding the Rangers at the trade deadline before issuing a similarly worded letter to fans.
"The decisions we make going forward will be based on long-term and not trying to save the season," Gorton told reporters at a press conference. "Let's face it, we've had a pretty good run for a while. Many years, we've had a team where we're looking to add at this time of year. Right now, as we sit last in our division, it's become increasingly clear that's not our team right now."
Flames No. 1 goalie Mike Smith is expected to return to net Friday against the Rangers' top netminder, Henrik Lundqvist. Smith last played Tuesday, when he earned the win after making 34 saves in a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Lundqvist was yanked in the second period Wednesday after allowing four goals on 16 shots against the Bruins.
Smith is 5-11-2 in 19 career appearances against the Rangers while Lundqvist is 6-3-0 in nine games against the Flames.
The Rangers and Flames are scheduled to complete the season series March 2, when New York visits Calgary.
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